Though it’s been three years since the vuvuzelas silenced and the stadiums emptied around Cape Town for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, travelers are still enamored with the magnificent country of South Africa. Physically, with its sweeping mountains and magical coastline, it’s one of the prettiest places in the world. That the bustling metropolis of about 3.7 million residents also has a thriving culinary scene and dynamic cultural foundation makes it that much more magnetizing.
It won’t matter if your two-day itinerary is more museum-focused or centered around wildlife, the Taj Cape Town is the best place to set up camp. The hotel is a 176-room escape in the heart of downtown that has an air of elegance permeating from the impressive marble-floored lobby all the way up to the 2,080-square foot presidential suite and every corner in between.
After dropping your bags off in your suite, make the one-minute walk up Queen Victoria Street to the bus stop with the red marker for the City Sightseeing Cape Town tour. The double-decker bus is essentially your guide to Cape Town, stopping at 18 various attractions around the city. With a one- or two-day pass you can purchase online or on the bus, you can hop on and off as much as you’d like. The first stop after the Taj is the South African Museum, a natural history attraction that comes off a little scattered in its setup, but more than makes up for it with an abundance of mounted animals that truly tell the story of the area’s breadth of wildlife.
When you finish there, hop back on the tour bus — they punctually hit each stop every 20 minutes — and go to the District Six Museum, a humbling place where you learn about the racial injustices black South Africans in the area dealt with during the tumultuous 1960 and 70s. Though the museum’s story flows a bit out of sequence, the information is so robust that it’s worth taking the time to fully digest.
Speaking of which, after two museum stops, it’s time for some lunch. Thankfully, the hop-on, hop-off bus drops you right off at Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, an entertainment complex with everything from a mall and Ferris wheels to a clock tower and aquarium. Stop by Ocean’s Basket for a sampling of the bay’s catch such as prawns, mussels and a tasty local fish called Kingklip, and then walk off the meal with a stroll around the water. Take a few photos in front of passing boats and beside statues of homegrown luminaries Desmond Tutu and F.W. de Klerk.
If you’ve timed things just so, it’ll be nearing 3 p.m., the last ferry departure to Robben Island, home to the prison where South Africa’s most famous native, Nelson Mandela, was jailed for more than 18 years. Ferries take about 30 minutes each way, and during the June through August winter season, the weather sometimes makes the ride a bit choppy. Consider yourself (and your stomach) warned.
After that eye-opening experience, make your way back to the hotel. Enjoy the view — if you get a room facing Wale Street, you can see famed Table Mountain in all its glory — or grab yourself a quick nap. After you’ve refreshed, head downstairs for dinner at The Bombay Brasserie (it’s strongly advised to make reservations a few weeks beforehand), the South African outpost of the famed London-based restaurant that serves sophisticated Indian dishes such as chicken with peppercorns and lamb shanks in saffron curry.
While day one certainly had more of a historical flow, day two will have a decidedly more outdoorsy feel to it. Enjoy the breakfast buffet at the Taj — expect a full selection of morning meats, made-to-order omelets and fresh pastries — before starting your tour of the city’s outskirts. For this brand of nature-focused sightseeing, you won’t be using the ubiquitous red buses; instead, you’ll want to pre-arrange a day’s outing with Adventure Sports & Tours 4U. This company creates customized schedules and guides in a way that doesn’t feel scripted. This rings especially true if your guide is native Haadin Waggie. There isn’t a township he hasn’t been to or a penguin colony he can’t find and if you’re ready to explore, he’ll take you to Seal Island. This aptly named spot is about 15 minutes out on False Bay where hundreds of seals have mysteriously collected for years. He’ll also take you to The World of Birds, an unassuming sanctuary that has an impressive collection of storks, emus, flamingos and countless other fowl, mammals and reptiles on display.
If you’re up to it, also go to Table Mountain National Park’s Cape of Good Hope, an area once thought to be the southernmost point on the African continent (Cape Agulhas, in South Africa’s Western Cape, actually holds the distinction). The juxtaposition of rock, coastline and water is hard to put into words. Haadin will certainly try though, and that’s fine; just remind him to keep his eye on the road, as baboons and ostriches are freely roaming all about the premises. When you do manage your way to the top of the park, take in the stunning vista of where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans converge. After lifting your jaw from the ground, grab lunch at Two Oceans Restaurant. With its stark white tablecloths, aqua place coverings and light wood chairs, the décor is as clean and airy as the breeze coming from the Cape. The menu is a sustainable seafood lover’s dream with entrées such as prawn linguine and Norwegian salmon being plated in the kitchen.
The day of wildlife spotting will probably leave you exhausted, but there’s one last thing to see — Table Mountain. Unfortunately, the cableway leading up to one of the seven natural wonders of the world is closed for maintenance from July 22 to August 25, but you can still get to the cableway entrance level and at least take in some of the majestic landscape.
For the last dinner, you can go a couple of directions: Mint, another fine-dining establishment at the Taj, focuses on modern twists on local fare such as grilled ostrich and line fish; however, if you want to keep with the day’s adventurous theme, ask the hotel concierge to shuttle you in the property’s Jaguar a few blocks over to the Eastern Food Bazaar, an international market with tasty Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern selections. The portions and prices are what have locals flocking to the place, but truthfully, the most amazing thing about the mart is all the varieties of people you’ll encounter. Somehow, even after a weekend of museum hopping and animal spotting, meeting the locals proves to be the most memorable aspect about Cape Town.
Photos Courtesy of DeMarco Williams